Friday, August 14, 2009

Getting to the Finish

The much anticipated morning of July 26 had finally arrived. I was in San Francisco with my one true love, on vacation for a week. We planned to see San Fran, drive along the coast to Monterey Bay, and further along the coast to Camarillo where Jason lived for 5 years while working for the Navy. But first, we’d be running.

Jason had been invited to run the San Francisco Marathon as an elite runner, and I was so excited for him. It was kind of a spur of the moment thing, but we decided to turn it into a vacation and go. Being unwilling to train for a marathon in the summer heat of Alabama, I opted to run the half marathon. My goal was to beat my old time (1:50:43) by whatever I could, and more importantly to be at that finish line when my husband got there.

Because we usually run the same marathons and I am significantly slower, I am rarely at the finish line when he gets there. I’m the one who gets to look forward to seeing his face when I complete my race, and whether it is a good one or a bad one, seeing him is my favorite part. Now it was my turn to be that for him and I was going to do everything in my power to be there.

The races both started at 5:30 a.m., although I would be starting at 5:31 since I was in the second corral. Jason and I jogged the mile from our hotel to the start line, stretched, kissed, and then went to our corrals. The National Anthem played loudly through the dark morning, and as usual I had a lump in my throat as I thanked God for such a wonderful country. I prayed for the runners and their safety, but mostly I prayed for Jason. I wanted this to be a good day for him and I wanted to be strong enough to finish in time to cheer him on.

The gun fired and I sent my prayers off with my husband as he started his race. I moved forward with the mass of runners in my corral, and in a few seconds, I began my own. I smiled. I love this part.

I kept an eye on my watch. I knew I had to run faster than an 8:23 pace in order to beat my current best. Beating that time would also give me more time to catch one of the shuttle buses back to the finish line. I had no idea how long that would take or how fast Jason would be running and the more time I had, the better.

My speed continued to pick up as I ran, and miles 3 and 4 were under 8 minutes. I gave myself a word of caution, but I felt so good that I didn’t really heed it. At mile 5, however, there was no choice. This was my first warning that this course was going to be a challenge, as the entire mile was uphill. We were climbing up to the Golden Gate Bridge. I thought once we got there, it would flatten out, but I was wrong. I climbed and climbed and climbed. My legs burned and my pace slowed and I wondered if we’d ever go back down.

Running across the bridge was so neat. It was shrouded in fog and mist, and it was wet, windy, and loud up there. Around mile 6 I began to see the front runners as they made their way back across the bridge. I looked for the man in the red shirt and sure enough, there he was. He looked fast and strong and I yelled as loud as I could. I finally made it to the other side, grabbing a Gu and a sip of Gatorade before making the turn and crossing the bridge once more.

When I finally saw the other side again, I was pretty sure it was time to run downhill and I planned to make up those seconds I lost climbing. Wrong again! We got off the bridge only to run up again. And then down. And then up. And then down. And then up. I ran hard, forcing my tired legs to pump up the hills. I thought to myself, “I do not have time for one more hill!”

I thought of Jason running double this distance and wondered if the second half was going to be as brutal as the first half. I prayed so hard for him that if it were possible to send physical energy from one human to another, I did it that day. I wondered how he’d done when he tackled each hill I was currently traversing. I willed my legs to push harder, sure each time that this hill would be the very last.

By mile 12, I was so tired. I kept looking at my pace on my Garmin and no matter how hard I pushed, I could not get it to drop. As the clock ticked by, getting closer and closer to 1:50, I knew I’d be cutting it close.

At last, after yet another hill, I could hear the cheers of the supporters at the half-marathon finish line. I was so glad to be almost done, and so glad to be running the half and not the whole marathon. I gave one final push and crossed that beautiful finish in 1:49:06. It wasn’t quite what I’d hoped, but it was a personal record all the same and I’d take it.

Upon finishing my race, I focused on one purpose, one mission, one goal. TO GET TO THE FINISH LINE BEFORE JASON.

I received a finisher’s medal and a foil wrap from the volunteers at the finish, all the while frantically looking for bus shuttle signs. I grabbed a goodie bag and half-heartedly filled it with whatever happened to be within reach. A banana, a bottle of water, some granola…I’m sure I missed most of the good stuff, but I didn’t care. At the end of this stretch I saw a sign pointing to the busses, and I began to run.

With my medal jumping around my neck, my goodie bag swinging at my side, and my wrap flying behind me, I ran like a woman who has not just run a half-marathon. I took in as much as I could of Golden Gate Park (oh what lovely roses…how nice it is here…where are the busses?) I finally spotted them, and raced to the front of the bus line, hopping on the bus in the front minutes before it drove off.

Once we were moving, I relaxed and took a breath, wondering where all that energy had come from. I drank some of my water, took in the scenery of the city, and thought about Jason. I wondered where he was, how he was feeling, and prayed that all was well with him.

The bus reached the start line and all the runners gingerly got off. The finish line was two blocks away and so I began to run again. Upon reaching the finish, I asked if any marathoners had come through and I was told they had not. I was so excited. I’d done it! I’d made it to the finish line before Jason!

I waited and watched 5k runners finish, and finally some marathoners came through. I looked and looked for my man in red, but I did not see him. The seconds continued to tick by and I became worried. By this point I was pretty sure something had gone wrong and my prayers continued as my eyes searched the road.

When I finally saw Jason, I was relieved and worried. The look on his face betrayed what I’d feared. He had not had a very good race. He was disappointed, but glad to be done. And I was thankful more than ever to have run hard enough to be there for him when he needed me.

As we made our way through the blustery city back to our hotel, we talked of our experiences that day. It was much hillier than either one of us had imagined, but I felt better and stronger for that. It had been a hard race, but it was still really neat to run across the Golden Gate Bridge and see so much of San Francisco.

With another race behind us, it was time to get busy enjoying the rest of our vacation. And that is exactly what we did.

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